It used to be called Igba Boyi. It was a concept and practice that created jobs and developed entrepreneurs who grew to become great industrialists that created businesses, some of which have outlived them. From records, Igba Boyi (apprenticeship) developed soon after the war orchestrated by Nigeria against the former break-away Biafra region. That war left the Igbo people devastated. Their economy was destroyed. But from the paltry £20 that each businessman from the region got from the federal purse, irrespective of their individual bank worth, the Igbo people recreated their economy and blossomed. To achieve that feat, the phenomenon of Igba Boyi came handy.
Igba Boyi supposes that a businessman picks some young boys and puts them under his tutelage. They learn trading or vocational skills under his supervision. And, at the end of the learning period (graduation), the master ‘settles’ them with startup funds and, sometimes, a shop and wares. That system helped many families to regain their footing after that useless war. Through the system too, Igbo youths became big businessmen and women. They became self-reliant too and helped to build their communities. But that cherished system became eroded by other pursuits and lost values. The outcome was that youths who could have become self-reliant, off the Igba Boyi system, became a burden unto society and roamed the streets searching for non-existent jobs.
Worried by this development, Dr. Obiora Okonkwo, the Zenith Labour Party candidate in the November 6 governorship election in Anambra State, through his foundation, Pro-Value Humanity Foundation, entered into a pact with the Business School of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University (UNIZIK), Awka, where he offered to fund a research into the Igbo apprenticeship system with a view to reinvigorating it for the good of society. He did so in the year 2000 at an elaborate ceremony in Onitsha, the commercial nerve of Anambra State. Onitsha was significant because it was where he started off in life as a student and honed his skills as a trader while also managing a horde of apprentices in his father’s shop. In undertaking to fund the research, Okonkwo expressed confidence that its outcome was capable of reshaping, rebranding and changing the concept of Igba Boyi, redressing its shortcomings and making it a very effective and practical tool in the effort to address youth unemployment in Nigeria. Significantly, the study was the first of its kind, funded by any individual and carried out by any university in Nigeria.
Report of the study was presented at an elaborate ceremony that held at UNIZIK last Wednesday. The event attracted diverse interest groups who were enthralled by the findings. The first step towards reinvigorating the system to make it serve the purpose it once served, according to the report, was to make a purposeful shift in identifying the system as Igba Boyi, and wearing a new gown known as apprenticeprenuership or, Nkwado Ogaranya, in Igbo. Literally, Nkwado Ogaranya means preparing for greatness. In other words, the system is seen as preparing the youth for greatness. It is the greatness that comes from self-reliance and living a fulfilled life through engaging in self-enhancing enterprise. The word, ‘Apprenticepreneurship’ is a new coinage derived from apprentice and entrepreneur. It strikes a note which suggests that the apprentice is on his way to becoming an entrepreneur. This concept strikes a more positive chord as against Igba Boyi, which, to an extent, has become a lot more derogatory.
The study, led by Prof. Nkemdilim Nonyelu as principal investigator, Prof. Ezimma Nnabuife, Dr. Chinedu Onyeizugbe, Dr. Rosemary Anazodo and Dr. Blessing Onyima, established that “there is a relationship between the decline in Igba Boyi among Igbo youths and loss of family values,” a development which Dr. Okonkwo had captured in his 10-Point Agenda as one of the focal governance issues that he would pay serious attention to, if empowered to lead the state into its next phase of glory.
But that is not all. The study concluded that: “There is definitely obvious decline in Igba Boyi scheme of Ndi Igbo majorly due to the drastic fall in Igbo cultural values that has, ab initio, formed the bedrock for child rearing in Igbo families and this and other issues associated with the scheme like increased quest for materialism, get-rich-quick syndrome, lack of patience to learn requisite skills, influence of social media, partly the derogatory way Igba Boyi is regarded, among others, have caused the observed shift in paradigm.”
It then recommends that: “the Igba Boyi scheme should be reconfigured and known as “Nkwado Ogaranya” by institutionalizing it through teaching in institutions of higher learning and enculturation in communities, families, churches, seminars, among other methods, for the younger generation to realize that it is their future that is being prepared for sustainable empowerment and development.”
The study further recommends the training the younger generation on the concept of Apprenticepreneurship, which is a form of mutual business relationship where the Oga, the mentor and trainer, gain from the apprenticeship, “Nwa na akwado iba ogaranya” through the various assistance rendered to the Oga and his family and the apprentice in turn gains from the Oga by learning the necessary skills and secrets of a trade or craft. By so doing, Igba Boyi will no more be regarded as servitude or slavery but the period of service needed for the preparation of Nwa Boyi for creation of wealth and greatness.
It also stated that “the Igbo Entrepreneurial Incubation Scheme (IEIS), which is explained by the two former concepts, Nkwado Ogaranya and Apprenticepreneurship, should be seen as a special incubation period of preparation when the necessary sacrifice and discipline must be made to prepare the younger apprentice for future greatness and this is amply buttressed by the “no pain no gain” cliché, adding that “families need to revert to the ancient ways of raising children and those were the times when honesty, diligence, discipline, hard work, among others, were seriously considered as basics.”